This working paper emanates from the Flanders Marine Institute’s ongoing research into the Prize Papers Collection kept at the National Archives in Kew, and their significance for eighteenth-century Southern Netherlandish maritime history. This collection contains shipboard documents captured from enemy ships by the British Navy during the War of the Spanish Succession (1702-1714), the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763) and the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783). In particular, the part of this collection relating to Southern Netherlandish ships and sailors has been left unexplored. The paper takes the Prize Papers collection as a starting point in order to investigate commodity flows of American and Caribbean commodities such as sugar, coffee, tobacco, indigo and rice towards Flemish merchant networks. As elsewhere in Europe during the eighteenth century, consumption patterns in the Southern Netherlands were marked by an increasing demand for such colonial products.
Despite the fragmented nature of these Prize Papers as shipboard primary sources, the products of corsairing and maritime warfare, it is possible to gain some insight on colonial commodity flows during Early Modern wartime. They show how both maritime and land-based warfare interrupted peacetime commerce in Europe and colonial territories, while simultaneously providing risky and lucrative trade opportunities. This paper focusses on the War of the Spanish Succession (1702-1714), the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763) and the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783). This chronological demarcation intentionally leaves out the period of the General Imperial India Company or ‘Ostend Company’ and its preceding private ventures (1719-1743), when the Austrian Netherlands directly engaged in Asian colonial trade via expeditions to Mughal India and Qing China from the port of Ostend. This period has been treated more extensively elsewhere. Instead, the focus here is on the indirect role of Southern Netherlandish commodity flows from French (and to a lesser extent British) colonial trade.